Graeme Storm beats Rory McIlroy in dramatic play-off just months after almost losing his tour card
While Graeme Storm was celebrating his golfing fairytale, Rory McIlroy was heading to Dubai for a scan on his injured back which he fears could cause him to miss a shot at regaining the world No 1 spot.
Storm beat McIlroy on the third hole of a gripping play-off at the BMW South African Open. And although the Northern Irishman was understandably bemoaning the continuation of his opening-week curse – this was the fifth time in the last seven years that he has finished runner-up in his first event of the year – he was not about to begrudge the success of his friend. As McIlroy said: “What a story it is.”
In October, Storm, the popular 38-year-old from Hartlepool, was in despair when believing that a final-hole bogey at the Portugal Masters had cost him his European Tour card – by a mere €100. He left the Algarve thinking that he no longer had a job and was considering what to do next.
But then the American Patrick Reed failed to fulfill the minimum number of events when skipping the Final Series and so Storm was handed a reprieve. And there he was, at the Glendower Country Club near Johannesburg, captilasing on his second chance in one of the most gutsy scenarios imaginable.
To win just the second title of his career – following up his French Open a decade later – and in the process ensure he retains his Tour playing privileges for at least two years was the stuff of fantasy. But to do so when going head-to-head with McIlroy, the world No 2 and winner of four majors, was, in his words, “totally unbelievable”.
“I am speechless,’ Storm said. “I was saying to Rory on the fairway in the last play-of hole that this was actually the first time we had played together and to play 21 holes with him was amazing. This is a dream come true. I’ve been to hell and back but I really took a lot from that experience last year and told myself to try to grasp the opportunity of getting my livelihood back with both hands. I have done that today and it means everything.”
Storm began the day three ahead of McIlroy, but despite a steady enough 71 was reeled in by the 27-year-old’s 68 for a 18-under total. Credit should also be given to Jordan Smith, the 24-year-old from Bath, who only missed the play-off by a shot on just his fifth Tour start.
Storm and McIlroy returned to the 18th tee for the sudden death shootout and each made par fours on the first two attempts. But, at the third time of asking, McIlroy missed the green with his approach and failed to get up and down. “Obviously it’s disappointing to finish like that but I’m delighted for Graeme, with everything he’s been through,” Mcilroy said.
“I wish I could have done a little more but it’s not a bad way to start the season and gives me something to build on in the weeks ahead.”
McIlroy refused to blame the upper-back problem which he believes was caused by all the testing he did in the off-season as he chose new clubs following the withdrawal of sponsors Nike from equipment-making. However, he was in obvious discomfort and spent hours on the physio table and was still popping anti-inflammatories in the play-off.
McIlroy is due to appear in this week’s Abu Dhabi Championship, alongside the likes of Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson and Danny Willett, and knows that a win would see him usurp Jason Day at the head of the rankings. It is a tantalising prospect, but McIlroy is wisely determined to keep his eye on the bigger picture.
“I am flying to Dubai and then will go for an MRI tomorrow just to see what’s up with this joint in my back,” he said. “It was manageable this week with tape and a few pill, but it’s not 100 per cent.
“Part of me really wants to make this week because there is so much to play for with world No 1 on the line. But at the same time there is so much to play for over the whole season and I don’t want to jeopardise long-term goals for short-term gain. Hopefully, I’ll be good to go.”